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theory that he could make the 2012 race a choice not just between him and mitt romney, but a choice between different ideologies, different approaches to government, between different sets of visions and values. and everything he did in that time frame he kept trying to tether to this big idea he had about a choice. and when i wrote the book, of course, we didn't know how things would end up on november 6, 2012, but, um, i looked at how he developed his governing strategy and his electoral strategy, and it really culminated in november. so this is the back story to what happened in this presidential campaign. >> david corn, "showdown" is his most recent book. we're here at the national press club. >> david nassau recounts the life of joseph p. kennedy, patriarch of the political family that included president john f. kennedy and senators robert kennedy and edward kennedy.
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the author examines joseph kennedy's career in business and politics which included ventures in wall street, hollywood and founding chairman of the securities and exchange commission. this is a little under an hour. [applause] >> thank you all. delighted to be here. as i tell my history students, i teach at the city university of new york in the ph.d. program -- [applause] >> thank you. [laughter] as i tell my history students until they wallet to choke me, the -- they want to choke me, the past is a foreign country. we can visit there, try to learn the customs, translate the language, feel the air and the light, sniff the fragrances, recoil at the foul odors, but we are foreigners in a strange land. this is true as much of the recent past as it is of colonial america or 12th century venice.
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writing about the recent past is not easy, as i learned this time around. first, there are people you have to talk to. [laughter] and while i was blessed from beginning to end by having some fascinating people to talk to about joe kennedy including large numbers of kennedys, i much prefer working from written documents to listening to people talk and trying to figure out what's real, what's imagined, what they know, what they think they know because someone told them, what they think they know but they don't know at all. the other difficulty about writing about our recent past is that it's not always easy to establish one's distance from it. to construct the pastness of the past that is so close to us. and yet this is what historians have to do. our job is to complicate, to
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take apart our common sense view of the recent past, to interrogate what we think we know, to demiesfy, demythologize, to move beyond the cliches about winners and losers, saints and sinners, about the wisdom and courage of our forefathers, especially those of the greatest generation. our job as historians is to tell a different story, one grounded in evidence. the life of joseph p. kennedy was, for me, a sort of antique funhouse mirror which if i looked at it long enough would reflect back to me, often in hazy, indistinct, distorted forms, images of events, people, places which organized and arranged told the story of 20th century america.
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as a historian, i'm interested in origin, so i will tell you about the origin of this book. i was a colleague of arthur schlessinger or at the city university of new york. he introduced me to the kennedy family at a -- some event, i don't know what it was, a reception, a dinner. i met with jean kennedy smith be, ambassador smith for the first time, and i had recently, i was finishing up my hearst book, and in my hearst biography, i had used a treasure-trove of materials that jean kennedy smith's daughter who was writing a collection, who was compiling letters from her father to her automatics -- to her aunts and uncles had put me on to. and in that treasure-trove of material, letters from william randolph can hearst to joseph
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kennedy and back and forth, i glimpsed a man who was different from everything i had heard about him. so i told jean kennedy smith at some point that her daughter should write a biography of her grandfather. and that the man was absolutely fascinating. it's a good word to use when you don't know if you're going to be writing about -- [laughter] you know, a villain or a hero. it was fascinating, i said, and somebody should do a biography. about a year later, i saw jean kennedy smith again, and she approached me, and she said the family wanted me to do it, to write that biography. that they recognized that there was need for such a biography. and i said, well, i'm in the midst of writing another book. i'm writing a book about andrew carnegie.
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she said, when are you going to be finished? you can't say no to a kennedy. [laughter] i said, i don't know, six months maybe. six months to the day -- [laughter] we got a call at home from someone i was convinced was a ted kennedy impersonator. [laughter] i don't know if any of of you grew up in new york or listened to don imus, "imus in the morning." he had a ted kennedy impersonator, and it sounded just like this. so i listened to the message, and of after listening to it the second or third time, i realized it was not an impersonator, it was the senate asking me to come -- the senator asking me to come to washington to talk to him about doing a biography of his father. i went to washington, and the senator and i and his two dogs had lunch together. on mondays his dogs came to the senate with him because the senate wasn't in session, and they could roam, yeah, play in
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the senate. it was a weird sight, believe me. [laughter] we were brought into a tiny little conference room. the two dog, the senator and me with a card table in the middle. and the senator, who was always on a diet, they believed that his back, he would feel better the thinner he was, had the most bedraggled sandwich i've ever seen, you know, like a sliver of tuna fish that looked as old as he was. and on a piece of bread. i add two pieces -- i had two pieces of bread and potato chips. [laughter] and we talked for three, four hours. and what i remember saying over and over and over again is you don't want me to write this book. because i'm a historian, and i'm going to find stuff. and whatever i find, i'm going put in the book.
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and who knows, but by the time this book comes out, there might be a kennedy running for office. little did i know that that kennedy's name would be joseph p. kennedy iii who ran for and was elected to the congress. well, the election came before my book came out. but i was worried, and i thought it was a legitimate concern. and the senator should know about it. he said, don't worry. he said, you know, what are you going to find? he said everybody knows that my father had an affair with gloria swanson, and he said and i know my father wasn't an anti-semite. and whatever you find and whatever you write is going to be truer to the man i knew and love than what's out there. so i said, okay, i want full access to everything.
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i want full access to the family, to all the documents, to everything that's stored at the kennedy library in boston but has been closed to researchers, and you will see the book, you and the family and your lawyers and representatives will see the book when it's between hard covers, not before. and i won't be coming back to you for permission to cite anything. whatever i find i'm going to use in the book. he said, okay. then it took 18 months to get this all in writing. [laughter] and i was off. i was off and running. and i found a more remarkable story than i had even imagined i was going to find. i found the story of a man who spent his life moving back and forth from being an outsider to an insider to an outsider to an insider. i found the story of an irish catholic who was not ashamed of
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his heritage, but didn't want to be defined by it. of a third generation immigrant who cared little about the country his grandparents had been born in, who had no desire to visit ireland or to read about it, who considered himself 100% american and couldn't understand why anyone would think of him as less than that. who was a catholic, who went to mass every sunday and went to confession. and the catholic church in boston was the anchor of his existence. and everywhere he went he would find out where the church was. when he went on vacation in new hampshire, he sent a note to the innkeeper who was a friend of his and said find out when they
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do condition possession, and also find out if to do les and millie are going to be around. i mean, this in one sentence. he grew up the son of a very respected businessman and ward leader in each boston. boston was across the channel. he was the ultimate insider in east boston. he was the ultimate insider in boston latin. and even when he went to harvard, because half of his class went with him from boston latin to harvard and about 10% of the students were catholic and a much larger percentage from public schools in and around boston, he still considered himself an insider. there were bramens there, and they didn't let him into some of
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their clubs, but that didn't bother him nearly as much as the fact that he was too slow to make the varsity baseball team. he got his letter but was never a starter. he graduated from harvard, and his life began. he wanted to go into banking, into finance. and he discovered that every door was closed to him because he was an irish catholic from east boston whose father had been a ward leader. every door. his friends, his classmates who were not irish catholic got interviews, got jobs at the major banks, the major financial institutions. he got nothing. nothing. not an answer, not an interview, not a nothing. he was still going to go into banking, so he took a civil service exam and became an assistant bank examiner. and he traveled around the state
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examining the books of banks and learned more about banks than he ever would have had he gone directly into a management position. he wanted to get rich, and he wanted -- as he said over and over again -- to make enough money so that he could leave every one of his nine children a million dollar trust fund in 1920 dollars. and in order to do that, he realized that he had to do more than be a banker. he had to make deals. he had to float stock options for companies. he had to raise money for the larger industries in and around boston. and again he realized as an irish catholic from east boston, he didn't have the connections, and he'd never have the connections in any of the major american industries. so what did he do?
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he looked ahead. and he realized that the boston bramen financial institutions were paying no attention to the industry that was about to take off; moving pictures. they had paid no attention to vaudeville, they were not paying attention to moving pictures. so he moved in, and he began making his own deals and his own contacts. he tried to when babe ruth was still in boston, he tried to put babe ruth in a moving picture. that didn't work. [laughter] but most of his -- because babe ruth knew his money and demanded to be paid up front, and kennedy never paid anybody up front. but every other deal went through. and vrnlgly he ended up -- eventually he ended up in hollywood as the owner, as the studio head of what was a minor studio.
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but that wasn't going to stop him. he realized and recognized how he could convert his outsider status, how he could make it an advantage, a benefit rather than a liability. so what did he do when he arrived in hollywood? he positioned himself as the non-jew. as the boston banker. as the third generation american. at a time when small towns and cities all over the country aided and abetted by a lot of rabble-rousers were beginning to say the movies are dangerous to our children. they're dangerous because they're controlled by these aliens, by these jews who don't understand christian morality.
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and towns all across the country and states all across the country were beginning to institute censorship laws. and hollywood had brought in will rogers who had been in the harding cabinet and was, you know, mr. protestant. and kennedy now positioned himself as the heir protestant, the non-jew. and he made himself indispensable to the industry as such. and studio after studio hired him. at one point he ran four major studios. and at each of those he demanded to be paid in stock options. by the time he left hollywood after only a couple of years, he was a multimillionaire because he knew how to manipulate those stock options. he knew how to turn those pieces
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of paper into dollars, millions of dollars. and he did. at age 50 having learned how to make an advantage of a disadvantage, at age 50 he had those millions and millions and millions of dollars. and at age 50 he knew the way the stock market worked, the way stocks and bonds are traded, and he knew that a crash was coming, and he pulled out all his money so that when the crash did come, he was left with his millions. in a extraordinary position. and yet with that crash, with that crash -- we're suffering from a recession now, and a lot, a lot of people are suffering. we all know people who are suffering. but it doesn't compare to the depression of the '30s.
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kennedy was scared to death. that everything that the country he loved -- because it had given him lots of opportunities that he had converted into dollars -- he was convinced that unless something was done to right the economy, capitalism was going to go down, and with capitalism democracy, and with democracy, everything that made this country great. and he was convinced that the only man who could right the ship, who could save capitalism and democracy in the nation was franklin roosevelt. so in 1932 he signed on to the franklin roosevelt team and was one of the only bankers to do so, and was one of the only
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irish catholics to take a prominent position, and was one of the only hollywood, men with hollywood connections to back roosevelt. hollywood then was solidly, solidly, solidly republican. loved herbert hoover, california. the outsider was on his way to becoming an insider. right? and yet he refused to play by the rules. he refused to become part of the roosevelt team. he refused to unabashedly say whatever you and your brain trust want to do, i'll back it. i'm with it. and yet he was so important to roosevelt as a banker and as an
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irish catholic and as a incredibly smart man that roosevelt a i -- appointed him the first chairman of the securities and exchange commission. at the time roosevelt's colleagues, the new dealers, were horrified. you know, why are you putting a fox in control of the chickens? and joseph kennedy was the greatest chairman of the sec we've ever seen. he knew every trick of the trade, and he passed so many regulation and such tough regulations that when he was finished, he had to get out of the market. [laughter] because every device he had used to make his millions he had outlawed. [laughter] and from the moment he left the sec, he began investing in real
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estate, like the merchandise mart in chicago, the largest building outside the pelt gone in the country -- pentagon in the country. and he bought, you know, block after block in new york. i don't think in philadelphia. he didn't get this far. he was concentrated in new york and chicago and westchester and albany. he was of not yet where he wanted to be. and he demanded much from roosevelt, and roosevelt gave it to him. and roosevelt named him the first ambassador, the first irish catholic ambassador to the court of st. james. he became the ambassador to great britain. and it was one of the worst decisions roosevelt ever made. [laughter] he knew but somehow believed he could keep kennedy in check, but he couldn't.
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he copp. he couldn't. kennedy was two men. when he talked to his children, he was a cheerleader, he was an optimist. but in his relationship to the world around him and to the 20th century, he was a cassandra. having made his pile of money, he was convinced that it was going to be taken from him. he was convinced that democracy and capitalism would be taken from the united states. if the united states entered the war, entered world war ii on behalf of the british, nothing was more important to him than making sure that there was no war. keeping britain out of the war first and then keeping the united states out of the war. and he did everything he possibly could. he violated protocol, he didn't
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follow orders, he met secretly with german diplomats. he was convinced that as a businessman he knew how to negotiate a deal. and that if he were put in a room with hitler, the two of them would negotiate a deal. he refused to see that hitler was a madman, that hitler didn't care about the, you know, the german people, that hitler had other fears that drove him. he believed hitler would be a rational actor. he told weissman, the leader of the zionist community and the first president of israel, he said i'm going to go meet with hitler. i'm working it out. he became so anti-churchill, anti-british, anti-war effort that the british opened a file on him and spied on him which i
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found in the national archives in britain called the kennedy antifile. and the german archives, there are records of his conversations with the german diplomats wanting to get to berlin to negotiate an end to the war. and to negotiate a settlement that would prevent war and that would rescue the jewish refugees. again, not for the first time he had gone from being an insider to being an outsider because he didn't know how to be a team player. he returned to this country in disgrace. he supported roosevelt for re-election in 1940 which is all roosevelt wanted from him and why roosevelt did not fire him as he should have.
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he retired, and he kept blabbing away. he gave an interview in boston in which he said the british are finished. and this is during the battle of britain. the british are finished. any money we give the british is, you know, is wasted, it's thrown away. and then he went to hollywood. he was invited by jack warner to speak at the studio about the future of films, what was film going to do -- what were the film companies going to do if they couldn't export, right, to europe? but instead of talking about that, he lashed out at an audience that was almost all jewish. he lashed out at them, and he said you guys unless you stop making anti-hitler films, the great dictator -- charlie chaplin's great dictator --
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unless you stop making anti-german, anti-hitler, anti-nazi films, you are going to cause the next war. millions of american boys are going to be killed, blood will be spilled, and there will be the worst outbreak of anti-semitism this world has ever seen because everybody is going to blame everybody in this country is going to blame the jews. by 1940 he was a total, absolute pariah. nobody wanted to touch him. if he had wanted, he could have joined the american first community, you know, and signed up with lindbergh with, but he didn't want to do that, because he knew if he did that, there'd be no place in politics for his children ever, ever, ever. so he didn't. he stayed quiet.
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the miraculous part of the story is the part that i'm not going to be able to tell you, that you're going to have of to read. [laughter] in 1940 he was, the kennedy name was, you know, dirt. it was dirt among the isolationists and the lindbergh people because kennedy didn't come out against roosevelt. again, because he wanted to protect his children so they could be insiders. it was dirt among the roosevelt people, the new dealers, the jews, everyone who wanted or who believed that americans had to support the british in their war effort. and 20 years later his son was elected president of the united states. once again the outsider had
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performed magic and become the ultimate insider, the father of the president of the united states. and i thank you. and i'm delighted to take questions. [applause] thank you. there are, there is a microphone here so hold up your hand and don't speak until you get a microphone. i've been warned. >> thank you. wonderful speech. isn't it true that roosevelt cement him to england just -- sent him to england almost to get rid of him because he considered him such a pain in the neck in. >> in part. it's a great question. in part, but he also cement him to -- roosevelt didn't trust anybody, and roosevelt was a brilliant charmer and conniver. the greatest president we've ever had.
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but roosevelt always sent three people to do one job, played 'em against one another. and he believed that he needed kennedy, because kennedy would immediately break -- report to him directly rather than to the state department. and that kennedy was smart enough to be his eyes and his ears. what he didn't know was that kennedy would quickly develop this obsession that made him useless as a reporter on conditions in europe. and roosevelt for the next two years would send over a variety of personal representatives to do the job that kennedy should have been doing and report on british preparedness, on whether mussolini was going to enter the war on the side of the germans, the stuff that he had hoped kennedy would do. he kept him there, however, because he was worried about him. he was worried that he would come home and support a
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republican or run for president himself. >> thank you. >> okay. there's a a question here and then over here. >> like the dog that didn't bark, we haven't heard anything about booze. [laughter] >> okay. you know, i entered -- one of the things i hoped i was going to write about in this book was bootlegging. what could be more fun than to write about booze and bootleggers and. alisyn: capone and -- al capone and meyer land sky and all the rest. regrettably, it ain't true. none of it's true. kennedy gave -- and i'm sorry, you know? kennedy supplied his harvard reunion class with liquor that
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may or may not have been illegal. he got it because his father was an importer. and when prohibition came in, you were allowed to take all your liquor and put it in your base m, and his father did. and some of that got to the harvard reunion. aside from that, no. no boot legging whatsoever. the only, the stories about bootlegging don't begin until the 1970s. when nixon run against jfk in 1960, nixon brings out researchers, he hires researchers all over the country to find every bit of dirt they can about the kennedy family. and they find plenty of dirt about joe kennedy, but no one accuses him of being a bootlegger. it's only in the 1970s when writers are trying to figure out the assassination and they figure it can't be oswald, it's got to be the mafia, but why would the mafia go after jfk? and these explanations are put
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together. and all sorts of retired mafia, can you retire as a mafia person? [laughter] some of, you know, in the miami, in israel n in europe, in the bahamas, they all come out when asked, and they say, oh, yeah, joe kennedy was a good friend of mine, we did a lot of work. and writers, you know, seeing a good story wouldn't let it go. you know, and i'm reading this stuff trying to track down every rumor, every story, and, you know, the credible witnesses include al capone's piano tuner? [laughter] who gives an interview in which he says he was tuning the piano when al and kennedy met together? they were, they include the ex-wife of a chicago mobster who says, yeah, yeah, my husband was
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a good friend of joe kennedy. they included people who came out of the woodwork to talk to me including someone in a penitentiary in canada who insisted that his grand uncle had been killed by kennedy who was in partnership with truman as a bootlegger. [laughter] kansas, you know, having bootlegging, you know, where did they get the booze into kansas? none of it made any sense. there was one credible piece of data, one credible, and that was that the canadian government was great during this whole thing. they didn't give a damn. they supported as much booze as possible coming across the border as lock as the -- as long as the shipment was paid in excise tax before they slipped it into the united states. joseph kennedy limited vancouver
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refused to pay the excise tax. and, you know, people have said, oh, there's the proof, there's the smoking gun. well, i found this kennedy. i looked at the business records and the tax records and the business directories in vancouver, and i discovered that it's david joseph kennedy who lived in vancouver, had been born in vancouver, died in vancouver. not my joe kennedy. so, no, no bootlegging of any sort. here or and then we'll go across. >> could you talk a bit about the relationship between joe kennedy and his son john and to what extent john kennedy knew of his father's relationships with multiple women and whether that influenced him to follow that same path? [laughter] >> yes. [laughter]
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yes. and i think that there are no kennedys in the audience here, are there? [laughter] i think jack was much more predatory even than his father was. joe kennedy spent his -- joe kennedy and rose had an arrangement much like rose's father had had an arrangement with rose's mother that i don't embarrass you, and i do whatever the hell i want, says joe. and he didn't -- he tried not to embarrass rose. i don't think jack had that same, that same code. i think he 'em parissed jackie -- embarrassed jackie in a way that, you know, is inexcusable.
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gloria swanson, one of the things i found is i went to austin, texas, to see the gloria swanson papers. you know, i teach ph.d. students. i'm probably the only historian who's made the trip to austin, texas, which has these great archives including the lbj library to look at the gloria swanson papers. and in the gloria swanson papers i found her handwritten notes that she gave her, whoever wrote her autobiography. the autobiography had none of this stuff, and the autobiography was written, you know, without much participation from her. remember when, god, who was it? wilt chamberlain or charles barkley or someone was asked -- >> [inaudible] >> was it, was it barkley? yeah. he was asked, you know, what's this doing in your biography? in your autobiography? he said, i don't know, i haven't read it yet. [laughter]
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gloria swanson, gloria swanson in these handwritten notes said that she tried during and after her affair with joe to figure out how this devout catholic who went to confession and went to mass could cheat on his wife like this. and she said -- and gloria was, you know, had her own prejudices. she didn't like jews very much, and i don't know that she liked catholics very much. she said it was because confession was like washing his hands. he'd go to confession, wash his hands and start all over again the next day. this is part of the story i have to tell. jog -- yes, sir, over here. >> would you elaborate a little more on why you -- i think you said that you didn't think that joe kennedy or couldn't find evidence that joe kennedy was
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anti-semite. how hard did you look? [laughter] >> no, i didn't say that. what i sid was that -- said was that his son said he's not an anti-semite, ted said he's not an anti-semimite. now, let me tell you what i -- this was not easy to figure this out, and it wasn't easy in large part because when you look at washington in the 1930s and especially the state department, everybody's an anti-semite. i mean, the state department is frightening. and washington outside the state department is only a little bit better. so when you start talking about who's an anti-semite, the better question is what kind of an anti-semite, okay? i had to define for pis -- for myself what anti-semite means. and i defined it as someone who believes that there's something in the genetic makeup of blood of jews that makes them
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sinister, corrupt and unable or or committed to destroying christian morality. lindbergh was an anti-semite. henry ford was an anti-semite. lady astor was an anti-semite according to this definition which became my definition. breckenridge law who was in the state department and ran the refugee program and kept out hundreds of thousands has as much blood on his hands as most germans, was an anti-semite. kennedy was not in that sense. but what kennedy was was kennedy as time went on absorbed every anti-semitic myth, every anti-semitic mythology.
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he used language, made speeches that were virulently and frighteningly anti-semitic. he believed that the organized jewish community -- not all jews, but the most powerful ones including those in the white house or close to the white house, frankfurter, brandeis, benjamin combs -- they were all, they were doing everything they possibly could to push the united states into war against germany to somehow get revenge against hitler. he believed the jews were warmongers, they were looking after only their own tribal interests, they were not patriotic. in a funny way, he accused the jews of everything that billy graham and the protestants accused his son of when he ran for the presidency in 1960.
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he didn't believe it was possible to be a jew and to be a true patriot at the same time. and those who opposed his son's election because he was a roman catholic said that, billy graham among them, norman vincent peel right out there in front, said that you couldn't be a catholic and a true-blooded american at the same time. because the vatican was going to give you orders, and you couldn't turn them down. over here. >> is it true that kennedy's views about the future of the stock market was influenced by his -- [inaudible] one day who was giving him advice on the market and supposedly kennedy has said on his way to his office he thought
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something is wrong when a boot black can give me advice? >> yeah, it's a great story. i found no evidence for it. [laughter] it's -- no, it may be true. there are some stories i found no evidence for and i discount. i didn't include it in my book because i couldn't verify it. but kennedy didn't need his boot black to tell him that. kennedy was very smart, and when you look back at the crash of 1929 as when you look back at the crash of 2008, you find that there are a lot of people who knew it was coming and that nobody was listening to. bernard baroque knew it was coming, and he got his money out of the market. kennedy knew it was coming, and he took his money out of every kind of speculative stock. because if you had -- it's the insiders who had to have known that the market was oversold. i mean, you know, groucho marx who was wiped out listened to
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insiders, so he can be ab so farred -- absolved or being stupid. but the people who worked as brokers had to have known that it was coming. kennedy certainly knew that it was coming, and he got out. >> was there any calculation involved in, um, his marriage to rose kennedy in marrying into boston's political royalty, i guess it's the beginning of catholic irish power in boston in and i have a little story what you may or may not know. one of my mother's friends grew up partially in palm beach, and she would be about 95 if she were still alive now. and there came a time when she stayed home, didn't go to school on the jewish high holy days, and everyone in palm beach
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shunned her. but bobby kennedy came and said our father said that we're allowed to play with you. >> yeah. i wish you had told me that before. [laughter] yeah, it rings true. it makes sense. it makes perfect sense because nobody liked the kennedys in palm beach, no. and kennedy at that time said the hell with you, you know? we'll make our own way. and he did. he did his own entertaining in his, you know, in his own house when he wanted to. and he went to bradley's which was the casino that he claimed has the best food in palm beach. the question is, the question is did kennedy marry rose fitzgerald because she was the daughter, did he court her, did he make her his girlfriend and
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go out with her and then marry her because her father was the mayor? yeah. yes and no. he was the most -- you know, she was the most eligible girl. she was smart, she was pretty, she was vivacious, she had this carefree attitude, she was an extraordinary young woman. and i think kennedy was drawn to her. and kennedy knew, you know, i don't know what came first, but kennedy certainly knew that his girlfriend was the mayor's daughter and that by marrying rose he was going to climb a step. one of the difficulties was that kennedy's father who was also very important in irish politics had been honeyfits' opponent.
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for a long time he didn't want them to be married because his father had been anti-honeyfits in election after election after election. joe kennedy's father believed that catholic power, irish catholic politicians didn't have to appear as clowns, you know? honeyfits was a clown. curly was a clown. you know? and they were boisterous, they were loud, they were rabble-rousers, they were the worst kind of populist. joe kennedy's father was not. and one of the reasons why joe himself didn't enter politics was that he was totally fed up with this irish catholic what he had seen as the dominant irish catholic posturing to the people, to the deer ris, you know?
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to the, you know, don't vote for that guy, he's not irish catholic. only an irish catholic can look after you. so said honeyfits and mayor curly, and they looked after their own pockets. >> any, um, any comments on the lobotomy story with his daughter rosemary being done so that she would not embarrass the kennedys and keep the boys from becoming president? >> yeah. um, i spent a lot of time, and i did an awful lot of research and found all sorts of stuff. no. i mean, you can blame kennedy for lots and lots and lots of stuff, but not for this. he loved that child. when he moved all the other children back to the united states when the french, when germany -- when world war ii began, he kept rosemary with him
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in england because she was doing really well at a school. and he looked after her. and when you see the pictures or read the letters, i mean, he loved this child. everybody knew she was slow, but that was okay. she didn't, you know, it was okay. but as she grew older and as she was slow but smart enough to understand that her brothers and sisters were going out in the world, were going to dances, were going sailing, were playing golf, um, that, you know, her brothers and sisters ten years younger could play by themselves on the front lawn, and she couldn't. she wasn't allowed to. she became increasingly angry, violent, she had a temper. she was no longer this sweet little girl. she was an angry, big woman in
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1920, '21. and kennedy, as he did with all his children, took charge. rose didn't. he did. and he went, and he sought the best medical advice, and the medical advice was get her a lobotomy. in this period of time, the lobotomy was the preferred intervention. there were critics, of course, but the man who did the lobotomy, the inventer of the lobotomy won a nobel prize for medicine. the man who performed the lobotomy, the team that performed the lobotomy was a neurosurgeon from yale, and, you know, the head of johns hopkins. and they said to kennedy she's still going to be slow, but we're going to do this operation, and she's not going to be angry. she's not going to be unhappy. she's not going to be discontent. she'll be a happy child again.
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and the lobotomy went dreadfully wrong, and she came out of it a vegetable. she eventually learned to walk, but she never spoke again. she didn't communicate, she didn't write. her intelligence had been that of a 6, 7, 8-year-old, now it was that of a six month old. and for two years after that, kennedy was the only one who kept in touch with her. he didn't -- rose didn't write her. in rose's round robin letters to the family, rose would write the whole family and say x is doing this, y is doing this, rosemary disappeared from family correspondence. kennedy continued to visit her, and he finally found a place for her. he wanted to put her in boston in a place near boston, cardinal cushing, a home for retarded children. and the cardinal said don't do
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it, because you can't protect the family's privacy, and you can't protect your privacy. and you can't protect her privacy most of all. so they moved her to a convent home in wisconsin. all that, i understand. what i don't understand is that once he put her in this home and she was well cared for, he never saw her again. and the family only began to visit rosemary again after kennedy had had his debilitating stroke, and they never told him. and the only one who made sense of this to me was tim shriver. eunice was, eunice began her work for the mentally disabled, you know, because of what the family went through. and tim shriver is an extraordinary young man. he runs the special olympics now. and he says, you know, you've got to understand the shame that the family had because they couldn't do enough for their
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sister. you know? they couldn't do enough for her. they couldn't help her. they couldn't do anything. and kennedy convinced himself and convinced the rest of the family that she was better off by herself with the nuns making her own community for herself if jefferson, wisconsin. -- in jefferson, wisconsin. i don't, i still don't understand it as much as i want to. one last question over here? >> what was his relationship with his sons, and what did they think of him? >> his kids absolutely loved him, they adored him. i thought it was inauthentic at the beginning, that they were making it up. i couldn't believe, you know, i hope my boys speak of me one-half as well as his boys and his daughters who had more of a reason to dislike him.
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they loved the guy. and it was only after i did my research that i discovered why. he was an extraordinary father. one can be an s.o.b -- watch my language -- in a thousand ways and be an extraordinary father, and he was an extraordinary father. he supported the boys. i'll tell you just one story. after the bay of pigs when we now know that jfk was absolutely distraught, jackie in her interviews with arthur schlessinger which were recently published talks about seeing her husband, you know, just cry, a grown man just sob because of the loss of lives. you know? he he had sent these men over to die on a beach or to be captured. it was a major, major, major
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crisis. and kennedy, the president and kennedy the attorney general at one point were trying to make sense of this, and bobby said to jack let's call dad. he'll make us feel better. he always makes us feel better. so bobby picked up the phone to call dad in palm beach, and dad got on the phone, and he said, look, guys, it's terrible. this was a fiasco. this was a debacle. but it was at the beginning of your four-year term. and can by the time you get to the end, everybody will have forgotten. [laughter] and the fact that you apologized, jack, the american people love that. you watch, your polls will go up in two weeks. and kennedy was right. kennedy, the father. and bobby was right, they felt better. and the polls did go up in two weeks. that was the kind of father he was. and one of the reasons i enjoyed writing the this book, there was lots to distress me from
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beginning to end; the anti-semitism, the appeasement, the isolationism, the ruthless stock market racketeering, the lobotomy that i never understood and the cutting rosemary off. but his relationship with all of the children including rosemary up to that last, those last years was truly remarkable. so on that up note, i thank you all for your attention. [applause] >> is there a nonfiction author or book you'd like to see featured on booktv? send us an e-mail at or tweet us at >> host: washington post correspondent and author rajiv command chandrasekaran. his new book, "the littlest
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america." mr. chandrasekaran, when you talk about little america, what are you talking about? >> guest: i'm talking about this remarkable community that the americans built in the deserts of southern afghanistan. not in the last couple years, but six decades ago. back when, unknown to most of our countrymen, there were dozens and dozens of american engineers there. this was back in the '40s and '50s digging irrigation canals, helping to nation build in afghanistan. and the very same terrain that president obama's troop surge unfolded in over the past couple of years. in in my history of obama's surge, i actually start back in the 1940s and this remarkable period of american assistance to afghanistan, a period of great optimism when we built this town there that the afghans started to call little america complete with a co-ed high school swimming pool where boys and girls would swim together, a clubhouse where you could get a
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gin and tonic. it was a period of great promise for the americans and afghans, and i use that as the opening for this book that talks about the great hope and tragedy of our war in afghanistan today. >> host: does little america still exist? >> guest: it does. it's the capital of helmand province, though it looks nothing like it did way back then. the suburban-style tract homes, white stucco walls have now been sort of built over. there's no more swimming pool, and it's not quite as safe of a place as it was six decades ago, unfortunately. >> host: now, for americans six decades is a long time, but for the afghan community it's not such a long period, is it? >> guest: afghans over there still remember this period. i remember going up and traveling through helmand province in 2009, and an old afghan man came up and asked me the marine colonel i was with whether he knew mr. and mrs. lener, and the colonel looked a little befuddled.
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well, of course, the lerners were the couple who taught him english back there decades ago. he had no concept of the united states being a country of 300 million people. why did we not know the people who had taught him english? so for the afghans of a certain generation, they remember with great fondness this period of american engagement and, in fact, remember it far more fondly than they think of the current american period, period of our stabilization activities there today, unfortunately. >> host: now, rajiv chandrasekaran, haven't there been several starts and stops and boom and busts, hopeful periods in our history with afghanistan? >> guest: there have. you know, the '50s and '60s were a period of great optimism and then, obviously, there was the soviet invasion. after the taliban were toppled after the 9/11 attacks, there was a period of great optimism that afghanistan would be able to build a more stable
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democratic society. but then we took our eye off the ball as many americans know, and we focused on iraq. what that allowed was the taliban to surge back in and, unfortunately, i think what we're seeing now is a period of a real mixed bag, if you will. there have been some real gains paid for by the lives and limbs of many americans, many american service members. and we have beaten back the taliban in places. security has improved. but there are real questions as to whether any of that can be sustained, when the after began government, whether it's army and police force will really be able to take the baton from american forces as they start coming home over the next couple of years. >> host: rajiv chandrasekaran, imperial life in the 'em regard city was about baghdad, little america is about afghanistan. >> you're watching booktv. and now the book "business networks in
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